Early this spring, when he was just getting to know his new teammates, Josh Bell talked with reporters about watching Washington Nationals’ slugger Juan Soto closely, even in batting practice, to see how the preternaturally gifted, 22-year-old slugger goes about his business.
“I feel like just watching [Soto’s] BP, how professional it is, and knowing that he’s going to make these pitchers work. First pitch of the season, he’s not a guy that expands the zone,” Bell said in March.
“He makes pitchers work. He works deep into counts. And pitchers start getting tired up there, they start making mistakes. Me being an RBI guy, love hitting with guys on.”
“I feel like just watching Juan Soto’s batting practice every day,” Bell explained, “you see the success that he had last year, and he had in the past, he drives the ball to all fields and he really makes pitchers pay with that. If I can add that to my arsenal, I think it’s going to make me dangerous as well.”
Bell’s not the first and he won’t be the last player to talk about how impressive Soto is, even in batting practice.
New Nationals’ catcher Riley Adams was on MLB Network Radio on Saturday, and he too said he’s watched Soto closely in BP since he joined the team.
“Getting in the cage,” Adam told the show’s hosts, “... and seeing the work that these guys do, obviously everyone knows Juan Soto is an extremely special talent, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed trying to pick his brain a little bit and learn from the best, and see what he does on a daily basis, and there’s a ton of other guys in that clubhouse who are just fun to pick their brains and talk baseball with.”
So what is it about the work that Soto does in batting practice and behind the scenes that’s so impressive to his teammates, to the point that manager Davey Martinez often tells other players they should watch him closely?
“If you look at him and you look at his work,” Martinez said, “... what he does, and how he prepares and how he gets ready, the one thing that stands out, the one thing I talk to all young hitters — is watch him set up, watch how early he gets ready to get to the baseball. That’s something that we always talk about. He gives himself a chance to hit every single ball, every single pitch, hard. And that’s a lot that we try to teach here with our young kids, get ready early, give yourself a chance to hit the ball hard, every pitch hard, and they watch him, and I tell them, ‘Watch Soto. Watch how he prepares. Watch how he hits the ball. He stays on the ball, hits the other way a lot in BP, and the last couple rounds he just hits the ball wherever it’s pitched, but he gets ready every pitch to hit every ball hard.’”
While Soto and his manager downplayed some of the talk of him being the face of the Nats’ franchise and the leader in D.C. following the club’s fire sale at the trade deadline, having a player who can lead by example as Soto seems to is a valuable asset.
“Yeah, and he does a great job with it,” Martinez agreed. “He just wants to help this club win and be a good teammate. That’s what he’s all about. And you watch him every day, go through his same routine every day, nothing changes, and the big thing about it is that he knows who he is, he’s not going to go out there and try to do too much, he’s going to stay in the zone, he’s going to take his walks, and the biggest thing is that he’s going to cheer for his teammates.
“I saw him yesterday talking to Bell after [Bell] walked with the bases loaded, and he said, ‘That was a great at bat, you stayed in the zone, and you got a walk.’ It’s good to see a young kid like that know so much about the game already, and a lot about him, he knows a lot about him, and how he wants to attack the day, attack the starting pitcher, attack the relievers, day in and day out.”